Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Perfect New Year's Goals and the Imperfect People Who Make Them
As I've been considering the resolutions I make this year I've felt impressed to share them on my blog. I say I've felt impressed to share them because they aren't really the type of goals that I'm accustomed to making for myself. They are not very pretty or flashy. In fact, I'm probably going to embarrass myself over and over again to accomplish them. Interest piqued? Good! Read on...
In order to share these goals with you I'm going to have to be honest about the current condition of my mental health and that is a really scary thing to do. But at least it proves I do still, in fact, have a mind after having five kids so that's hopeful. This post might be surprising or even confusing to some but there are others out there who will know all to well what I'm talking about and I'd love for them to know that they are not alone.
In the midst of instagram, pinterest, and lifestyle blogs I think sometimes we begin to forget what real life looks like. And although I've never purposefully tried to be unrealistic I think I've definitely been guilty of only posting the good parts of me on social media. So, this post is about the other side of life. This part of life doesn't get beautifully photographed or attached to our Christmas letters. But for many of us it's always there. Sometimes loud and large, sometimes small and almost unseen. The hard, ugly, not fun part of life that gets overlooked and hidden until it roars and looms and won't be ignored any longer. And while this post would probably be easier to write in a year from now when things are less raw, or even ten years from now when parts begin to become fuzzy, I think perhaps it can have the most impact now. And so as scary as it is to write, this is the story of my postpartum depression and what it's taught me about the world we live in now.
Mentally, physically and emotionally the task of making resolutions this year has seemed completely overwhelming to me. Not to mention, you know, actually following through on any kind of self improvement tasks. Usually a new year brings me excitement and a sense of purpose but this year has found me exhausted, confused and at times completely hopeless. The self help books, religious articles and motivational speeches that would have once left me feeling driven, determined and ready to be better have left me feeling alone, abandoned and broken.
Two years ago I was at the peak of my game. I had lost 50 lbs. I ran my first half marathon. I was teaching preschool, serving as a PTA officer at my kids' school, running a small cake decorating business, teaching the women's group at church and updating my mom blog pretty regularly. If I ever had free time I would feel guilty and fill it up with something else. And I wore my "busy-ness" badge with pride. Yes, pride. Because I'd bought into the idea that my worth as a person was no more than the sum total of what I could accomplish in a day. A very easy trap to fall in to and one that I'll address more later.
For now lets fast forward to six months ago. I moved across town and had my fifth child! A beautiful little boy that is a huge blessing in my life! But it was a rough pregnancy and I had to give up several items on my check list. Then I ended up in a c-section after spending months commuting an hour away to a doctor who would do a vbac. And I felt like a failure. So I decided this failure was because I just working hard enough. So I recommitted to my checklists and 5 days after my c-section I was back out in the world sitting poolside while my kids swam with friends. And I started back to exercising at 3 weeks. And I cleaned the whole house. And I organized the kids clothes. And I wound up back at the doctors with an infection and exhausted and was told that I needed to slow down. So I did. For about 2 days. Then I was still unhappy so I found thing after thing to blame this unhappiness on...first it was my wardrobe. Nothing fit. So I bought new clothes. Still unhappy. Must be that my house needed work, fixed up the house. Still unhappy. So I moved on to the next thing...
Finally, after about two months of failed attempts to resume my pre-baby lifestyle I found myself exhausted, angry, agitated and quite frankly confused as to what to do. The activities that had once brought my joy (cooking, organizing, volunteering) now just brought me frustration and depression. The activities that had once recharged my batteries (parties, book club, being social) brought only anxiety and agitation. Unable to cover up how I was feeling for long periods of time I began to attend less. I'd show up late or leave early when I felt like people might see the real me peeking through. I stopped blogging and volunteering. I stopped cleaning or cooking. And I finally let the depression and anxiety overtake me and I felt completely swallowed up. My husband covered for me when he could and once a week I'd put on my smile and head out to church and for a while the charade worked and no one knew a thing. And it got to the point where I looked at my life and I honestly couldn't see anything that I was doing right. And it got to the point where I couldn't remember ever doing anything right. And I wondered if I would ever be able to do anything right ever.
Luckily, I have a husband, and family, and a few close friends who convinced me to seek help. And it was scary and hard to admit that I needed others help and the lessons that I've learned about postpartum health, and mental health, and medication, and therapy, and meditation could fill a whole blog. But, I'm already six paragraphs into this post and I'm still not at my point so I'm going to jump over all the lessons I've learned and get to the point...
New Year's goals! This experience with depression and anxiety has caused me to look at my life and think about what is and isn't working. The most shocking realization for me was that even when I was accomplishing my whole list I wasn't happy. And as I look back at the goals I've made for myself in the past I can see that they haven't made me happy. Regardless of how many things I was checking off my list, I was still living life on the verge of a breakdown. So why? Why can I try to do good things and not end up in a good place? And I realized it's because I haven't done things with the right intentions. My way of looking at goals was I'm going to try and be better at X,Y, and Z because then maybe I'll be a good person, more worthy, more well-liked. When I really should have been saying because I'm a good and worthy person I'm going to do X,Y, and Z to help me improve. The difference is slight but important.
What are some of the wrong reasons to do good things? Maybe some of us make goals out of guilt. Or because others expect it of us. Or maybe we pick our goals because they look the prettiest on social media or so that others will know how good we are. Maybe some of us pick goals because everyone else is doing it. Or maybe we pick goals for the joy of making a list. Or because we are competitive.
I recently re-read a talk about the difference between doing and being by Lynn G. Robbins. He says "Many of us create to do lists to remind us of things we want to accomplish. But people rarely have to be lists. Why? To do’s are activities or events that can be checked off the list when done. To be, however, is never done. You can’t earn checkmarks with to be’s...Do without be—hypocrisy—portrays a false image to others, while be without do portrays a false image to oneself." I've been doing without being. We can do this all the time. People can memorize scriptures all day long but if they don't apply what they are reading (like becoming kinder or more humble) then it hasn't really effected who they are at all. We can go to church and learn about God but if we don't believe that he loves all of his children equally we haven't learned anything. We can make the most perfect, picture worthy, food for our families but still be an emotionally neglectful parent. We can lose 50 lbs. and still be an unhealthy person.
So how do we switch our thinking? When we make a goal to lose weight is it so that we'll feel healthier and happier or is because we think society is judging us because we don't look like a billboard ad? When we make a spiritual goal is it to bring us closer to God and our fellow man or is to distinguish ourselves as more spiritual than someone else. When we talk to our children about goal-setting is our emphasis on them getting better grades, cleaning their room better, and looking perfect on Sunday or are we talking about the more important things in life like being kind and patient, actually learning things instead of just memorizing facts, and forming healthy relationships with others. We have to break free of guilt, shame, and expectation and start goal setting using hope, joy, and love.
In that spirit, I am trying to make goals this year that will actually help me be a better person, not just look like a better person. Instead of trying to cover up my flaws by doing more good things, I'm going to try to do less of the things that are bad for me. So without further ado, my goals...
Goal #1) Care less about what other people think of me. I think writing this embarrassingly honest blog post is a good start! When we choose actions based on what other people might think of us we can drive ourselves crazy. This doesn't mean that we don't consider other people's feelings. But just that we also consider our own feelings as equally important. So I'm going to spend less time being a door mat or a punching bag. When we allow others opinions or expectations to dictate our actions then we are "doing" without actually "being". We also stand the risk of being wishy-washy as we are tossed about from one persons opinion to the next. I'm going to be more confidant in the things I believe, or feel, or want and express those to the people around me. I'm also going to focus on the opinions that matter most to me...like my family, my Savior and myself. I'm going to spend less time seeing how many of my junior high school friends "like" my status. I'm going to speak my mind more. I'm going to worry less about if people are upset or offended by me by trusting that they will tell me when they are. And if they decide to gossip about me or harbor grudges that's on them. When someone brings up something they think I could do better or differently I'm not going to immediately cave. I will listen to their opinion and then decide either A) yes, they are right and I need to change or B) I'm going to stand strong in my opinion on this. I'm going to be more realistic about what is going on in my life. I'm going to allow myself to be happy when I feel happy and sad when I feel sad. And I'm going to have faith that the people who matter will love me anyway.
Goal #2) Care less about what other people are doing. Well this sounds like a jerk move! But what I mean by this is that I'm going to do less comparing and competing. Isn't there a saying like unhappiness comes from counting others people's blessings more than your own. If not, there should be on account of it would really help the point I'm trying to make! How will I make this a measurable goal? I'm going to spend less time on social media. I'm going to uninstall apps that don't make happy. I'm going to be more genuinely happy for others successes by realizing that they don't make mine less. I'm going to realize that we usually aren't seeing the whole picture and that people all have struggles. If people do something that hurts me I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt that it was an accident. I'm going to spend less time being upset by other people. I'm going to forgive and let things go faster. I'm going to engage less in unhealthy competition. I say unhealthy competition because we all need a little competition in our lives to move us forward but I've let it get out of control. Don't worry, I'll still be doing fitbit challenges, but when someone tries to compete about money, kids, houses, who's busier, etc. I'm not going to engage. I'm going to realize more that people don't really care all that much about what I'm doing either. So I can spend more time enjoying my kids school performance and less time getting the perfect picture for instagram. Bam! I just reclaimed like 10 minutes of my life every day!
Goal #3) Do less. Um, isn't this the exact opposite of setting a goal? Probably. But I've been doing a lot of things that just really aren't that important. I go full speed and fill up every part of my day until I get overly tired and crash and burn. This year I'm going to try and take small breaks along the way so that I can stay more even. I'm going to say no more often. (That should be easy, right? Since I'm caring less about what other people think of me) I'm going to realize I can't be all things to all people and that I have to prioritize what I'm doing. I understand that where I spend my time is effecting who I become. Do I spend it with my kids? Do I spend it doing mundane chores? Do I spend it on facebook? I understand that I still have to do things I don't want to do but I've got to find a healthier balance by sprinkling in some things I do want to do. I have to clean my house but I doesn't have to be immaculate. I have to feed my family but I'm not a failure if we have to have chicken nuggets one night. I have to exercise but it's okay if I'm not running marathons. I'm not going to feel guilty if I do something fun before all of my chores are done. Some days I'm going to nail my entire to-do list and some days I'm going to binge watch old episodes of West Wing and I'm an equally awesome person on both. I'm going to let people know my limits more. Oh, and I also might take a nap sometime. Yeah, that would be sweet.
Goal #4) See goal #3 and stop adding more goals to the list.
Do I still need/want to lose weight? Sure! Do I still have a goodreads goal? Yep! But this year I'm going to focus more on what I am ("a super girl working on her degree") and less time worrying if I'm doing enough. The journey to becoming a better person starts with believing you are already a good and worthwhile person. That's a step I've been missing in the past. Becoming a stronger, healthier person is going to feel uncomfortable at times. I'm going to make mistakes. I'm going to fail. I'm going to accidentally step on others toes and misspeak. It's not going to look perfect or pinterest worthy. But I'm doing it anyway. By doing less of the things that are holding me back I'm going to move forward. By spending less time on things that make me ultimately unhappy I'm going to have more time to look for joy, love and peace. If you need someone to remind you that you are a good and worthy person too I'm here for you! Happy New Year!